Luke18:1-8 “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!”’ And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’”
Let me say a few words of introduction:
i] Firstly on how this parable develops what the Lord Jesus has spoken of before. There are two links that I can see with the teaching that we’ve been considering. The first theme (continued here by our Lord Jesus) is his emphasis on the emptiness of materialism. The secular world we live in insists that the only reality there is is what you can see, handle, taste and touch. Reality is the physical world around us. The world of the five senses is all that counts. The world looks at us praying and judges we are wasting time; we are talking to ourselves; we’d be much better off in doing something on our computers or watching TV than praying. Christians, you know, are not afraid of the material world. Quite the reverse; John begins his first letter by saying, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (I Jn.1:1). Christianity is rooted in the physical world of sense phenomena, not the fairy tales of the invisible gods who live on invisible Mount Olympus who fall in love and fight with one another. The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, and he spoke words which men heard with their ears and then wrote down on a papyrus scroll. He died on a cross of wood and rose from the dead coming out of a tomb carved out of stone, and he changed the lives of the people he met in the next forty days as he ate and drank with them. He told us that we shouldn’t be satisfied with the material world that we see and handle and taste and touch. We should also pray to God and never stop. So that theme is the first link with the previous chapter with its warnings about living for eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, looking longingly at Sodom and doing nothing more. There is a personal sovereign Creator God whom we must have dealings with.
The second link with the previous chapter is Jesus’ continued emphasis on the end of the world and the second coming, and so the parable ends, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (v.8). Now this does not mean that Jesus is hinting that the Christian faith will have been virtually wiped out when he returns, that he questions whether he will find faith on the earth. He is commenting on the faith that the widow in the parable showed when she persistently and defiantly cried for salvation from oppression until she was heard. At the end of the world the Lord won’t be looking for what empires we have built, or what power we have accumulated, or what wealth we have accumulated or what reputation we have gained. He will want to know if we knew God, and had dealings with him, and interceded, and prayed, never giving up . . . never giving up. Where will be this kind of faith, the faith that this woman had, when the Lord comes again? He will home in on this faith.
ii] Why it was necessary for Jesus to encourage us to pray persistently. You’d think that we wouldn’t need any encouragement to pray. We sinful men and women have known the forgiveness of our sins, and the gift of eternal life, and the privilege of being adopted into the family of God so that we can address God as our Father who is in heaven. So you’d think that we would be talking to him all the time, pouring out our thanks and asking him for help. You’d imagine that we wouldn’t need to be exhorted by the Saviour who died and rose for us, saying to us, “Now you must always pray and not give up.” Give up? That would be like giving up breathing! You might think that, but it is not like that. We do need to be encouraged to pray. The reasons for this are many. The one thing the devil desires is to stop us praying. Again, we might have very weak faith; we are baby Christians. Again, the influence of the flesh – that is remaining sin – is very strong; it pulls us down and kills the spirit of prayer every day. Again, we may be physically weary men and women; we work long hours and when we pray we find ourselves soon nodding off to sleep. Again, we are also ill disciplined; we haven’t helped our times of prayer by fixing a routine for praying as we’ve done so for brushing our teeth or washing or eating a meal or going to bed. Again we might be callous towards the hurting world around us; we’re not moved with compassion for the muddles people get into as Jesus was. Again, we still have a false sense of independence, thinking we can cope with life, and we hardly need to pray. Again, sometimes we lost heart; we have been so greatly disappointed with what has happened in our lives. We prayed earnestly about a crisis when it began but nothing has changed, and we wonder whether God has heard us. Is God real? Can our little prayers make any difference at all? In that list I jotted down eight factors explaining why it is tough to pray, and you can think of the force of the combination of those factors.
So Jesus is encouraging us to pray, and so he is encouraging me to pray, and do I need such encouragement! I suppose the sermons I least appreciate are, firstly, messages on revival because they are all about things that happened two hundred years ago or 2000 miles away and they may contain tall tales, and secondly, sermons on prayer because the gulf between my praying and what preachers say seems to get bigger as the years go by. Listening is like Chinese torture, the drip, drip, drip on my conscience and I’m thinking, “I’m just going to be the same next week as I was before I heard this message on prayer – only guiltier.” So I long that this will be an encouraging message because this is an encouraging parable. The aim of Jesus in telling it to his disciples was that they felt, “Oh! So it’s worthwhile my praying even my little prayers, and maybe I can pray with more understanding and feeling and a bit longer than I am doing just now.”
I’ve often heard it said that our prayer life is one of the clearest barometers of our present spiritual state. But you have to be careful of that statement as there is a lot of praying and chanting and liturgy in the world. There is a lot of confused and sinful praying, isn’t there? There are people who said, “Lord, Lord,” to whom Jesus will say, “Depart from me I never knew you.” I don’t believe that as long as you keep praying everything will be OK. No one has ever prayed a sinless prayer. You must keep clinging to Christ alone as the grounds of your hope of eternal life, and then your consequent praying in his name is an evidence that this is so. Maybe I can say that true prayer is a thermometer for the believer of how warm and ardent is his affection for Christ. Would you agree with that? If we do agree then immediately we are saying, “Lord it is my chief complaint that my love is weak and faint.”
I suppose we all agree that it is much easier to preach about prayer for thirty minutes than to pray for thirty minutes. I think that praying is the most difficult thing in the world to do, and there is no discipline in the Christian life over which I lament as much as neglect of prayer and my cold heart. Sam Storms, in the introduction to his book on prayer, describes my own ‘raincoat’ experience. Let me explain; he says, “My reason for writing this book differs considerably from what one might expect. I was motivated largely by guilt. My prayer life simply was not what it should be. I knew that as far as Scripture is concerned, prayer is a non-negotiable. Yet I had come to treat prayer like a raincoat, hanging in the closet ready for use if the weather demanded, but hardly something to wear every day. Like my raincoat, prayer seemed unnecessary as long as the sun was shining. I had fallen into the snare of complacency, thinking that since my life was relatively free from discomfort and tragedy, prayer could take a back seat . . .” (Reaching God’s Ear, by Dr. Samuel Storms, Tyndale House Publishers, p 7). I was reading what the Irish atheist author and editor, Conor Cruise O’Brien, wrote about leaving his wife in hospital the night before she was facing a big operation. He got into the car in the hospital car park and he found himself praying for her. He had refused to pray for years, but now the thought of losing her overwhelmed him, and in spite of all his secular ideals he prayed, much to his surprise. His wife recovered and he didn’t pray again. Prayer for him was like a raincoat that you need to put on only when it’s raining. But “Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”
JESUS’ PARABLE CONTAINS WARRING PERSONALITIES.
i] The Judge. “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men” (v.2). Men of money and influence get these positions in little towns, and this man was utterly corrupt. Poor town, to have such a man to give judgments in disputes between neighbours, and when accused men and women had to appear before him and he passed sentence! How horrible for a community to be ruled by such a man! His character contradicted his calling. He was controlled by his own ideas and inclinations. He defied his warped and muted conscience, and he was contemptuous of public opinion. So here was a man, whom, one supposes, took bribes. He did what brought him money. He didn’t care what anyone thought of him; he was ungracious, unloving, unmerciful and ungodly. He himself was utterly brazen about his selfishness. He said, “I don’t fear God or care about men” (v.4). So Jesus introduces us to a mean-spirited, corrupt tyrant who had ultimate authority in this town.
ii] The Widow. “There was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary’”(v.3). So here in the same community is the archetypal helpless figure of a person in need, a widow. She does not have a husband she can turn to, who will protect her from evil men who might harass her and take advantage of her, and this particular woman had to deal with a crook, an adversary who was ruining her life. Making demands on her for her property perhaps, and for her money. Constantly pressurizing her and threatening her, and her only refuge was to appeal to this monstrous judge. If ever there was a woman between a rock and a hard place it was this widow! She had no father who came to her defence; no brother and no elder in the local synagogue to stand up for her. She was at the mercy of injustice.
She had one great attribute, she was a feisty woman. She would not be cowed by the judge. She refused to give up. She was a fighter and her weapon was her conviction that she was in the right and her adversary was a wicked man. So she went to the judge the first time and she asked for justice. The judge threw her out, but back she went pleading for the protection of the law; “avenge me,” she cried, “defend me! Vindicate me! Right the wrong of which I am the victim! Let me be paid what is due to me!” Those were her pleas as week by week she turned up at the court, waiting in line with the other suppliants, looking at the steely-eyed judge, unintimidated by his anger at seeing her yet again standing before him. So those are the two characters, and that is how they met one another, through the evil man who wanted to take from her what was rightly hers.
iii] The Resolution of the Case. One day he had a change of mind, saying “because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming” (v.5). The widow was such a source of annoyance to him that he dreamed up this way of getting rid of her. He would give her what she asked for. But that is not what he said. He actually said, “I will see that she gets justice.” He uses that word. He acknowledges that he has wicked withheld justice from her for a long time. So he prevented her adversary bothering her any more. He told him to back off, but that was only because she had worn him down by appearing tearfully in his court week after week and refusing to take his dismissals as the final answer. He said literally, “she’s hitting me under the eye by coming here.” It means that he was worn out with her coming, quite broken in spirit. She had got under his skin and she never wanted to see her face again. He had not become a righteous man. He simply wanted her whining in his court room to end. My mother would tolerate my saying, “Can I have it Mam? Can I have it Mam? Can I have it Mam?” My determination was my only weapon, and then I would make my final plea that often resulted in Mam giving me what I wanted. I’d plead to her, “Say, ‘Oh have it then!’” And this is what the reluctant judge said to her one day, “Oh, have it then! Get out of my courtroom and never let me see your face again!” He had been exhausted by her persistence.
There was a magazine sending out reminders to former and present customers, and one farmer was the unhappy casualty of a computer glitch which resulted in him receiving 9,734 notices of the magazine’s renewal. He sent a cheque to them saying, “I give up! I renew my subscription.”
JESUS BY THIS PARABLE IS ENCOURAGING US TO PRAY.
Listen to the judge, says Jesus. Hear him! It’s not that he is a good man or that there is anything praiseworthy in his attitude – quite the reverse – but our Lord intends the lesson of this incident to be a word of contrast not a word of comparison. Even the most corrupt of men will answer the cries of a needy widow, so how much more will a righteous and loving God hear his children when they cry to him? Christ said, “Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” (v.7). Maybe all our problems with prayerlessness have as their root an inadequate view of God. He is too small, and not loving or wise or powerful enough in our minds. We distrust him because we do not get certain things from him, or we don’t get them immediately. But Jesus is assuring us here that God is totally unlike the unjust judge. He is utterly fair. “Will not God bring about justice?” “He will see that they get justice.” Our Lord emphasies this.
i] So the character of God encourages us to pray. God is just and good and loving. That is the most inspiring and satisfying of all God’s attributes, that this world is in the grip of a God of love. When the doubting, troubled student, John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan, saw this and was convinced of this reality while standing on the bridge over the river Dee in Aberdeen he was so overwhelmed with joy that he tells us he danced a jig on the Brigadee. This world has been made and is being sustained by a fair and righteous God. How glorious! The alternative is unthinkable that cosmic malice rules in heaven and over the earth. Men will not accept that horror readily, of course not, and so they end up saying, “there is no god at all.” Atheism is preferred to the powers of darkness in control. We were talking to a man at the Aberystwyth fair and he resisted any Christian good news or literature directed to him. There had been no woman like his mother, he said; she had gone to church and taught Sunday School and yet had died in her forties of cancer. How could he believe in a God who would permit that? If there were such a God how could he respect or worship him? My good friend and colleague who talked with him was incredibly patient, and he spoke of his own loss of his wife of cancer fifteen or more years ago, and how God had helped him and his children through that time. God is always good, though we are sinful. We have forfeited the right to demand anything from his hands except for justice because of our sin and the sin of our father Adam. Whatever God does with us and in us God must always do what is right. Some die young and some die old; none of us will die unjustly but many will die unprepared.
Jesus says in our text, “he will see that they get justice” (v.7). Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, the express image of God, tells us that with God there can be no miscarriage of justice. This woman would not be excused if she pleaded, “How can I believe in a God of love when this adversary of mine keeps harassing me day after day?” That man was exercising his own free hatred of his neighbours. The Lord we worship suffered the hatred of sinners against himself. He kept trusting in God. One day God will make plain why this widow and also ourselves have suffered. We are familiar with the words of Abraham, and they have been our comfort for years especially when fearful providences occur. The words are, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25), but our other favourite verse is in the book of Lamentations, easy to remember, Lamentations chapter 3 and verse 33, but let me read it from verse 31, “For men are not cast off by the Lord for ever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” (Lams 3:31-33). Certainly this is so for his own chosen people, those whom Jesus in our text calls his ‘elect;’ “will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones?” (v.7). You see the logic of it? God has chosen a countless number of men and women to become his children because he loves them. They are going to spend eternity with him, and he will change every one of them into his likeness. They have all been loved with an everlasting love; he has suffered and bled and given his life on Golgotha for them. So most certainly he will bring about justice for each one of them. We can say to him, “Listen to me O Father for you have chosen me to be your own beloved child. You have given me Christ and with him you have freely given me all things.”
ii] The contrast the Lord Jesus draws in this parable encourages us to pray. Consider all she lacked compared to all we have:
I] She was a stranger to that judge, whereas we are his chosen ones. We are God’s own children. We can say to him, “Dear Father.”
II] That judge had no affection for her whatsoever, whereas God has loved us from eternity.
III] She was one, while we are many. She was a lone voice crying for help. We are many voices who cry to him with one heart and voice. We may seem few. We may seem outnumbered against the elite in the academy, the media, and among the entertainers, but in fact we are many, like the sands on the seashore.
IV] She pleaded her own cause, whereas we plead God’s cause. Our great end in all our prayers is that God’s kingdom will come and his will will be done on earth and heaven.
V] We are asking God to do what his nature and character already predisposes him to do, whereas that judge was having to act entirely out of character. God is everything that that judge was not.
VI] That judge was hostile, while ours is inviting. He encourages us, “Ask and you will receive.” That judge was unjust and ours is righteous.
VII] That judge was provoked by her pleas while ours is pleased by our pleas.
VIII] That judge would permit her to approach him just at certain times that he decreed, while our judge hears us at all times.
Yet, this widow got what she wanted. The argument is plain. If she received what she was after from a dishonest, greedy, and unjust judge, how more certain can we be that the Sovereign loving God will hear our cries and vindicate us, protect us, and provide for us? Our responsibility is not to stop but to keep praying at all times and not lose heart. Persist! Pray without ceasing. Pray briefly and pray often, exhorted Spurgeon.
LET US PRAY ALL KINDS OF PRAYER TO THE LORD.
Let me give you a wee word on the basics of prayer using the familiar acrostic A.C.T.S.
i] A – Adoration. If you have come to know God through his Son Jesus Christ then you are acknowledging that a divine miracle has been done in your life. God loved you individually before the foundation of the world, and he determined that you would be his child. He would save you from your sin and its consequences. He would take you to heaven and transform you into the likeness of his Son and put you in a new heavens and earth there to glorify God for eternity. He planned it and he accomplished this drawing you out of the darkness of unbelief into his marvelous light. Then thanks alone for this glory is inadequate. Adore the God who has done this; be lost in wonder, love and praise for all he has done for you and uncountable millions like you.
ii] C – Confession. There are people in every Christian church who are difficult and awkward men and women. Our prayers are that they be made aware of this, even if it’s only a glimpse of this that they have, and that they confess it to God every day, asking him to help them. It would be so much easier for us to live with them if they once said to you or me, “Oh, I know I am a perfect nuisance in this congregation. Please forgive me and help me.” The Bible tells us to do this, to confess our sins to one another. The uncomfortable truth is that there is something of those men and women which is in all of us. We all deceive ourselves about who we are and what we’re doing and what we’ve failed to do. Probably not one of us is transparently honest with himself. It’s too painful. For the same reason, few of us are completely honest with God. For in order to be totally honest with God we have to be honest with ourselves, and that’s just what we would like to avoid,
Please listen, all of us now. We must face up to our need for such honesty. We cannot be spiritually healthy without it. We are like alcoholics in that regard. At meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous members of the group stand up to speak one at a time. Each begins the same way. She mentions her first name and then she acknowledges her condition: “My name is Mary. I am an alcoholic.” When an alcoholic tells his story at a meeting, he is never allowed to get away with excuses or denials. That’s because alcoholics know that nobody can hope for help or healing without admitting his weakness; “I am a drunk.” Confession is the first important step toward wholeness and health.
It’s the same for all of us. Besides adoration, our prayers in church and by ourselves must include confession. To confess in prayer before God is to own up to who we are: “My name is So and So. I am a liar.” To confess is to admit what we have done and what we have failed to do: “O God, I have purposely deceived people who have a right to the truth. O God, I had a chance of stopping a damaging lie about another person, but I failed to do it.” Confession is painful. It digs beneath our surface, throws off our masks and disguises, and lifts up the truth. The truth includes not only our sin but also our dependence on God for health, and breath, and life itself. Confession includes mentioning our weaknesses. Confession is like cleansing a wound. It hurts to do it thoroughly. But if you go ahead and clean it, the wound may heal without getting infected. It is part of the dying-away of the old self and the coming-to-life of the new.
iii] T- Thanksgiving. The whole structure of redemptive religion can be summarized under three words all beginning with the letter ‘G’; our Guilt as sinners; God’s Grace in saving us; our Gratitude in a lifetime of praise. The Christian is constantly giving thanks. Thanks for temporal mercies, and thanks for spiritual blessings. Thanks most of all to God for the unspeakable gift of his dear Son! One great illustration of this is found in the letters of the apostle Paul. No less than forty times does Paul use the verb and noun denoting thanksgiving. He is full of gratitude: “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all” (Romans 1:8). “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God, which is given you by Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 1:4). “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3). “We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Colossians 1:3). “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers” (Philemon 4). And four times in Paul’s letters to the believers at Thessalonica he sounded the note of praise. “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers” (I Thessalonians 1:2). “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 2:13). “How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy in the presence of God” (I Thessalonians 3:9,). “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, for it is fitting” (II Thessalonians 1:3). It seems from that selection that much of the time Paul spent in praying was spent in thanking God for the Christian people he was aware of everywhere.
iv] S – Supplication, in other words, praying for others. Someone thought of a way to teach us to pray for others by looking at the fingers of our hands. Maybe when we pray in a prayer meeting there are silences and we look down at our hands and we are wondering who or what we should pray for. Children, you can pay attention now.
The thumb is closest to you. It therefore reminds you to pray for people who are close to you. We pray for Mummy and Daddy, for our sisters and brothers. We bring before God Dad who is having trouble at work perhaps, or a sister who feels left out of things; we pray for our children and grandchildren especially those who are prone to wander.
Your index finger is used to point. It therefore reminds you of people who point men and women to Christ, whose only business here below is to cry, “Behold the Lamb!” We pray for our missionary friends, Keith, Malcolm, Mark, the Killers, Hicham. We pray for church planters. We pray for gospel pulpits in this town. We pray for those who work in the Book Shop, and teach Sunday School, and work with the kids on Fridays, and those who do evangelism in Aberystwyth, in the university, and those who were on Nightlight duties late Saturday night helping people who had had too much to drink.
Your middle finger is highest. It reminds all of us to pray for all in authority, for politicians, the prime minister, the Welsh Assembly, the royal family, for soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, for Keith. We pray for town leaders here in Aberystwyth, councilors, newspaper editors and columnists, the police, solicitors, magistrates, professors at the university, the local doctors. We pray for the Christian Institute.
The ring finger is weakest, as all pianists know. It reminds us to pray for our friends with learning difficulties, for the unemployed, for people all over the world being crushed by religious extremism and anti-Christian governments, for the sick and those who care for them. They are a part of our fellowship and even our families. These may be the Christians whom Jesus called “the least of these my brothers.” He says that they especially need our help and care. He even says that helping them counts as helping him.
There is the little finger. It comes last and reminds us, at last, to pray for ourselves. Four out of five of these prayers are for other people. We call this supplication. To intercede is to act as a go-between, standing between a neighbour and God. We believe in the priesthood of all believers and we speak on behalf of, or for the sake of, others.
You can find supplication throughout the Bible. Moses pleads for the children of Israel. Job prays for his friends. Paul intercedes for his young churches. Our Lord pleads for the very people who are killing him: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Stephen the martyr imitates Jesus in this. Let’s always pray and not faint; let us adore, and confess, and give thanks and pray for others and not stop. More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.
20 November 2011 GEOFF THOMAS